With the Rio Olympics coming up, the media is looking at what may happen and what sorts of new Olympic bests and records may occur. One thing that is being discussed is the possibility that Ashton Eaton (USA) and his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton (CAN), may win gold medals in the decathlon and heptathlon, respectively. The interesting thing about that would be that they compete for different nations – although they both went to school at the University of Oregon.
It is a definite possibility that they both could win. Eaton will be favored, and should win the decathlon, barring injury. Theisen-Eaton may, or may not, be favored. She won the Götzis meeting in 2015, the top heptathlon invitational, but finished second at the 2015 World Championships to Jessica Ennis-Hill of Great Britain, the 2012 Olympic Champion. Theisen-Eaton had also been second at the 2013 Worlds, while Ashton Eaton was World Champion in 2013 and 2015, and Olympic Champion in 2012.
There is another possibility of a similar happenstance. Matt Emmons and Kateřina Kůrková-Emmons compete in shooting for the United States and the Czech Republic, respectively. Kůrková won a gold medal in air rifle in 2008, and has won medals in 2004 and 2008, while Emmons won small-bore rifle medals in 2004, 2008, and 2012, and a gold in 2004 They are a much longer “shot” to both win golds than Eaton / Theisen-Eaton.
Has this ever happened before? It depends on how you look at it and how you define it. Further, there are some difficulties in knowing the precise marital status of couples at certain times. In this era, we usually know when famous athletes marry, but in older Olympics, it was not so easy to determine.
If you are asking – has a married couple from different nations ever won gold medals at the same Olympics – the answer is NO. There are two different cases of couples that were married, at some time, competing for different nations at an Olympics, and winning gold medals at the same Olympics. That would be Hal Connolly and Olga Fikotová in 1956, with Connolly winning the hammer throw for the USA, and Fikotová winning the discus throw for Czechoslovakia; and Jan Frodeno and Emma Snowsill in 2008, both winning the triathlon gold medal, Frodeno for Germany, and Snowsill for Australia. However, neither Connolly/Fikotová, nor Frodeno/Snowsill were married at the time they won their concurrent gold medals.
In all our database contains 66 married couples who have both won gold medals at the Olympics. In 35 cases, they both won gold medals at the same Olympics. We cannot tell you, however, with confidence, how many of them were married at the time they won their concurrent gold medals.
There are 11 Olympic married couples who have won gold medals for different nations, but only Connolly/Fikotová and Frodeno/Snowsill won them at the same Olympics. And again we don’t always know the date of the marriages. Interestingly, all 11 couples won their medals in the same sport. Here are those 11 couples:
|Hal Connolly||ATH||USA||1956||Olga Fikotová||TCH||1956|
|Jan Frodeno||TRI||GER||2008||Emma Snowsill||AUS||2008|
|Bill Toomey||ATH||USA||1968||Mary Rand||GBR||1964|
|Peter Mueller||SSK||USA||1976||Marianne Timmer||NED||1998/2006|
|Yuriy Siedykh||ATH||URS||1976/80||Nataliya Lisovskaya||URS||1988|
|Bart Conner||GYM||USA||1984||Nadia Comăneci||ROU||1976/80|
|Valery Medvedtsev||BIA||URS||1988||Nataliya Snytina||RUS||1994|
|Valery Medvedtsev||BIA||URS||1988||Olga Pylyova||RUS||2002/10|
|Andre Agassi||TEN||USA||1996||Steffi Graf||GER||1988|
|Ids Postma||SSK||NED||1998||Anni Friesinger||GER||2002/06/10|
|Matt Emmons||SHO||USA||2004||Kateřina Kůrková||CZE||2008|
There are six cases of Olympic married couples winning gold medals together at 2 different Olympic Games, or Olympic Winter Games. Adding Winter is important because 4 of these were married couples in pairs figure skating, well known to most Olympic or figure skating aficionados. These would be, in order of when they did it – Pierre Brunet and Andrée Brunet-Joly (1928/32 – only married in 1932); Oleg Protopopov and Lyudmila Belusova (1964/68); Aleksandr Zaytsev and Irina Rodnina (1976/80); and Sergey Grinkov and Ekaterina Gordeeva (1988/94).
What about married couples from different nations both winning medals of any color at the same Olympic Games? That has happened 13 times by 12 couples, as Emmons and Kůrková-Emmons won medals in both 2004 and 2008, although they were only married in 2008. We can only confirm two married couples that won their medals while married – in addition to Emmons / Kůrková-Emmons in 2008, in 2002 there was Raphaël Poirée (FRA) and Liv Grete Skjelbreid-Poirée (NOR) in biathlon. There are two couples whose marital status at the time of their concurrent medals is uncertain, although of the others, 8 were not married while winning their medals.
In all 230 couples that were either married, eventually married, or once married, have both won Olympic medals. It has happened 31 times that they have been from different nations, but 19 of those did not occur at the same Olympic Games.
Of these 230, 150 couples won medals at the same Olympics, with the same caveat that we can’t always speak for marital status. It has happened 29 times that these couples won medals together at two Olympics, and 3 couples won medals together at 3 Olympics, once again in pairs or dance figure skating – Brunet/Brunet-Joly (1924/28/32), Sergey Ponomarenko/Marina Klimova (1984/88/92) (URS/EUN) (ice dance), and Zhao Hongbo/Shen Xue (2002/06/10) (CHN).
Husbands and wife usually competed in the same sports while winning their medals at the Olympics. Of the 66 gold medalist couples, only 10 of them competed in different sports. Of the 230 medalist couples, 186 of them competed in the same sport.
So, yes Virginia, if Ashton Eaton wins the decathlon at the Rio Olympics, and Briane Theisen-Eaton wins the heptathlon, they will become the first married couple from different nations to win gold medals at the same Olympics, while married.